New Creatives

I recently gave a talk at the closing event of an EU-funded program to support the creative industries around Coventry and it gave me an opportunity to think about my ‘practice’.

This is a word people in the creative industries like. It sounds like ‘craft’ but with more intent, more direction. I don’t think of what I do as a practice, I don’t have a studio space anymore, and I don’t work with other people in that studio space.

However, I do know plenty of people who have studios and even more people (who I’m calling New Creatives as an hommage to James’ New Aesthetic) who add to those studios in ways I find compelling & admire.

I wanted to share what New Creatives are for me if only to shine a light on new ways of working in the creative industries, ways which the government does not acknowledge when it defines these industries but ways which lead to innovation across a number of disciplines.

A definition

If I had to define a New Creative, I would say it is:


A flexible professional who uses their knowledge of programming to lead the early stage of client projects in the arts and/or product design.

What I’m implying in this definition:

  • That person usually works as a freelancer (with their own registered company) or as part of a micro-SME (less than 5 employees).
  • They have a deep knowledge of programming because they studied computer science or they are self-taught programmers.
  • They work for clients.
  • They may not be fussed about working with people who will publicly recognise their contribution.
  • They can act as both a creative lead and a technical lead.
  • They are often involved in the early stages of a client project, rarely staying for more than 2 years and often moving on after a few months.
  • They have developed skills in product design and manufacturing through education platforms like the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi and others.
  • New Creatives understand and adapt to product design and software development processes and timelines.

What’s new?

In New Media Arts and now the internet of things, clients are turning to these New Creatives to integrate a creative and technological conversation which would traditionally have taken a whole team often working in silos. The external state of the New Creative allows him/her to work in isolation to business processes that might be blocking innovation as well. This doesn’t mean the work done by the New Creative always fundamentally disrupts a business completely, but simply that their broad skillset allows them to have an impact more quickly. In that sense, the traditional tension between a designer and an engineer is removed because the New Creative is both.

You could see this as a threat to the design industry, but it’s not quite the case. A New Creative simply allows their clients to move away from traditional design values & processes (strong sense of authorship, long-lasting impact, expensive market research and mass production) by replacing it with a variant of software design processes (iterative prototyping, proof of concept and design fiction as a tool for communication) and assessing the results in different ways.

Their engagement though is ephemeral and they quickly move on from organisations, so their value needs to ultimately be internalised by the client in the form of changing HR practices or restructuring whole business processes. Easier said than done. But the New Creative doesn’t care, because he/she has already found work elsewhere.

They are highly autonomous and well paid which allows them plenty of time to keep learning about other design processes whether that’s electronics design, CAD, sewing, photography, film whatever will get them to contextualise and examine the impact of software in new ways.

Where do they come from?

Most of the New Creatives I’ve had the pleasure of encountering did Computer Science at university but with an interest or minor in humanities. Some came to CS later on in life.

This means that our art and design schools are terrible at creating the type of real multi-disciplinarity which our societies need to come up with innovative ideas based on complexity.

Why should you care?

Not unlike a unicorn, these New Creatives are a great way to see the future marriage of technology and creative industries. Too often funded differently, with separate conferences and separate trade-shows, New Creatives point to a more integrated education, workplace and future ideas. Catch em while you can!



What does it do? A proposal for connected product labelling.







The problem with connected products is (among other things) that they have a life beyond our actual use of them. Data is collected by manufacturers about how we use our lightbulbs, wristbands, thermostats and more. That data is collected at a particular rate and we often don’t have access to it.

So what can we do about it? Well very little for now because most consumers don’t know this is happening at all. Once the packaging thrown out, we sortof forget what’s going on.

Standards around recyclability of an object and safety means companies are forced to print a little logo or CE and UL marks but there is yet to be any such tools forcing manufacturers to share information with consumers about their use of our data with a connected physical product.

I think this should change and have shared a first stab at what this should look like.

Broadly I think companies should be sharing information on a basic level such as whether data is being sent to the cloud and collected or not. At what rate that data is being sent and using what type of communications technology.

Additionally I think we should all have access to the data we share with companies in a human-readable format. We can then decide to archive the data elsewhere or delete it. This is regardless of our technology literacy and mobile phone access. You should be able to pick up an object and see things about it online that relate to you.

This may be something we can use the .iot domain for for example (if ICANN wants to act in this space).

There are lots of things to figure out with this idea (security of access to archive and delete functions for eg.) but I think we need to start somewhere.

Ten years of the internet of things through the eyes of Gartner

The end of the summer marks the return to school and a time to digest our favorite summer publication: the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Chart. Every year I feel a bit confused about this graph. Folks in B2B sectors swear by it and have pointed out that in the last two years the internet of things reached the dangerous ‘peak of inflated expectations’.

Keen to dispel this largely constructed myth, I wanted to map out the last 10 years of this chart, analyse how the internet of things discourse is ongoing and show that this yearly report is nothing more than a snapshot of anxieties and aspirations in the technology sector as well as a reflection of what technologists really wish would pick up regardless of reality.

If you decide not to read on and just click on the pretty picture:

  • In yellow: topics which I connect to the internet of things 
  • In orange: topics related to 3D printing
  • In blue: random topics which Gartner don’t seem to want to kill off when many other come and go.


In the beginning there was nothing

So let’s go back to 2005. I was still in Ivrea and the Arduino had just made its first batch.  What does anyone know about the internet of things? Well judging by that year’s chart nothing. Nevermind that Kevin Ashton had coined the term back in 2001 and that Nabaztag and Ambient Devices were going strong. There is nothing but RFID and mesh network love for the 2005-2009 charts. And because we’re in the throngs of Second Life love-in, augmented reality and virtual worlds start to make an appearance and basically never leave the chart. The only virtual reality headset I’ve seen in the wild is in the BBC R&D’s North Lab over a year ago. Just saying.

Smart health

The 2009 chart sees the first appearance of Home Health Monitoring. It reappears again in 2012 but doesn’t come back again. Why? Well noone likes to think about death, not designers, not technologists, even if there’s a huge amount of money there. It’s also an area massively regulated making it difficult for startups to get involved in but certainly not possible (just ask GlowcapsKemuri or Lively). You don’t need to look very deeply to see that the health sector and families dealing with chronic illness and palliative care could do with innovative services but somehow these existing companies don’t help this term make a reappearance in its own right. Robots (first described as mobile then smart) on the other hand have been moving up and down the beginning of the chart since 2007. Having worked on a social robots project in the past I think the chart also reflects the amount of press particular areas receive.

Late on the 3D printing game?

The path of 3D printing is the proof of this. I studied industrial design from 200-2004 and 3D printing was an integral part of our education with resources available and cost for prototyping rather low for one offs but it doesn’t make it onto the chart until 2007, the year a commercial printer is available below $10K. The Makerbot, which offered open-source 3D printing for a lot less, launched in 2009  but it isn’t till 2013 that the chart separates ‘Consumer’ from ‘Entreprise’ 3D printing. They were also mapped  at very different levels, but considering Makerbot’s acquisition and recent layoffs in 2014, I’m not sure how long ‘Consumer’ 3D printing will stay on this list at all.

Aspirational thinking

Topics and technologies tend to either linger on or come and go on the chart. Lots of blogging then micro-blogging between 2005-2011 until they simply dissappear. Tele conferencing and Virtual assistants come and go to disappear in 2010. Virtual worlds and augmented reality never leave the chart and one has to wonder why the insistence. Knowing a little about how Gartner does their research, this could be down to simply lobbying. This isn’t a scientific view after all even if industry treats it as so.

Multiplying endlessly.

So back to the internet of things, well as a separate item, it only appears in 2011, almost as NFC takes over from RFID (basically the same technology) meaning that the term is important enough to be considered on its own even of it’s not a technology at all. It’s an aggregate of technologies. So weak is the definition of the internet of things in the context of this chart that the subsequent years see the random appearance of topics which I’d have included under it: wearables, smart workplaces, smart homes, connected homes, human augmentation, biochips. etc. It feels like this year, the map was really just playing internet of things vocabulary bingo. The disappearance of ‘M2M technologies’ and the oddly named ‘consumer telematics’ is odd as well as the consumer and industry sides of the internet of things are often wrongly confused.

The even weirder ‘People-Literate technology’ points to a general trend in recognising the role of user-centered design, but that’s not a technology and I’m sure all technology providers have realised this at some point in their development.

But you know, still robots and virtual reality.

So why should anyone care about this chart? Well I think when presented in aggregate it speaks volumes about what we aspire to develop over time regardless of industry reality and what we too easily dismiss.

For internet of things developers, we should take comfort in seeing that #iot has been growing and that even if the terminology is getting muddled, it’s been here to stay for some time wherever it sits on the chart, because its position doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that it’s there at all, in multiple guises, its success and growth hiding in plain sight.

Making ourselves happy

I just got off recording a podcast which was focused on AI and sci-fi. Not my favorite topics. Reminded me of a moment in the excellent Déclin de l’Empire Américain (1986).

Ce qui veut dire qu’un mariage réussi n’a rien à voir avec le bonheur personnel de deux individus mariés ensemble. À la limite, la question ne se pose même pas. Comme si une société en développement se préoccupait davantage du bien collectif ou d’un bonheur hypothétique futur plutôt que de satisfactions individuelles immédiates. […] Et je pose la question paradoxale : cette volonté exacerbée de bonheur individuel que nous observons maintenant dans nos sociétés n’est-elle pas, en fin de compte, historiquement liée au déclin de l’empire américain que nous avons commencé à vivre ?

I’ll attempt a translation.

‘ This means that marriage has nothing to do with the personal happiness of the two married individuals. Actually it’s as if the question doesn’t even come up. As if a developing society is more concerned with collective happiness or a hypothetical future happiness than immediate individual  satisfactions […] And I ask the paradoxical question: isn’t this focus on individual happiness that we now observe in our society today, in the end, historically linked to the decline of the american empire which we have started to experience?’

It came to me as we discussed progress, innovation and ways of making our individual lives more effective, efficient, full of personal happiness and fulfilment. It’s harder to care about others, what we have to engage with collectively. Easier to shave off seconds from cooking or booking experience. So we have more time to check Facebook perhaps.

How to get people to make things for you

We’re a week away from the deadline for the Smart Oxford Challenge and I was asked if this was a hackathon. That expression and the format it has come to represent gives me the heeby-jeebies so I wanted to share why, and what makes the Challenge different.  This is coming from ten years of organising events around the internet of things (up to 60 attendees on average) as well as being a producer for the Mozilla Festival during it’s first 2 years in London (600-800 attendees).

What is a hackathon?

Generally speaking this is the format of a “classic” hackathon (obviously there are variations):

  • A company sets a theme
  • Developers are invited to take a day or two (often on a weekend) of their time to address that theme and build prototypes
  • Pizza is dished out
  • A judging panel arrives at the end of the event and teams pitch
  • There may be a prize at the end of it for the “winner”

What’s good about this?

  • This might give developers some dedicated time to work on something they’ve been interested in and not had the time to work on because of other work commitments.
  • This acts as an easy networking opportunity for developers.
  • On a good day, they may take the work they’ve done during the hackathon and quit their day job and work the idea into a company.

What’s wrong with this?

  • The theme is there because the business has a problem it could probably address by hiring a small number of the right experts.
  • If the problem is artificial, then it’s a marketing exercise. As long as its clear to attendees and the business that’s fine, but it’s rarely clear.
  • Developers are highly paid professionals who care about the work they do. Asking them to spend unpaid time on someone else’s problem is hard especially if the event is on the weekend and they have a family.  This may work if they are young and looking for freelance work but the good freelance developers I know would run a mile.
  • There isn’t usually a clear IP situation. Who owns the work done?  If this isn’t clear you can be sure that the best idea will not be developed on the day and will be squirrelled away by the developer to work on independently.
  • The food is terrible, and usually doesn’t cater to allergies and intolerances. This puts everyone in a bad mood. Productivity and happiness will always be affected by food, unless you’re on Soylent (barf).
  • Offering a prize is tacky and problematic if it’s a low cash prize or an iPad. It’s a weak symbol of your appreciation. If anything, something more interesting (box tickets for a sports event or a trip somewhere) would go a long way.

So how do you do this differently?

There are in my experience two routes to the development of good ideas by smart people: pay smart people to look at what you’re doing and tell you what they think / build alternatives or support smart people in developing their existing ideas.

1. Pay smart people to look at what you’re doing and tell you what they think

No this isn’t about getting a management consultant in. This is about exposing a small but diverse group of people (less than 15 ideally) to what you’re doing as a business and work in teams (2-3 no more) to work out better ways of doing it. The duration of the exercise depends what kinds of results you want. The higher the resolution of the response (functional prototypes etc), the more time and materials you’ll need. I wouldn’t push beyond a week though. They’ll have other things to do with their time :) But everyone is paid and happy to be there and they meet and work with people they’ve not worked with before. This group of people can come outside the business or all over your business. As long as they are all coming at the problem from different spaces this will work. I’ve worked like this with clients like EDF, American Express and the British Standards Institute.

2. Support smart people in developing their existing ideas

There are so many startups who need help at various levels especially when it comes to #iot. I started thinking about how to really help them as I was encountering all sorts of problems with Good Night Lamp and finding it difficult to get expert advice for little money. I started by organising a showcase for British Gas two years ago where over 60 startups were able to show their products to the British Gas venture team and management. There were some cash prizes for the top 3 but that wasn’t really the point. The startups were able to meet others like them who shared similar challenges in the tricky business of energy-based #iot solutions. Last year, I helped the Digital Catapult scope the best ways to help #iot startups and ended up running a pilot event called Boost.    Ten experts were invited to offer 30 minute clinics to startups and discuss their problems. We ended the day with nibbles and a showcase. This was a great event but I thought I’d missed a trick.

The Smart Oxford Challenge borrows heavily from that model and will see selected smart cities teams and individuals come and spend time with experts on topics which they have identified and at the end of the day, they will get to meet city officials and pitch their idea. This is really to not only support and help but help champion and open doors for startups. Building a community around what a business does has to be about opening doors over a short period of time (the event is one day) with no strings attached (the event is free and no equity or IP is at play). Only then can it start to understand what are the challenges of startups and how they can help best. And for clients with R&D departments interested in new areas like the internet of things, this is useful model to gauge where your research should lead you if you try to productise it.

HOME/SICK : the new nature of things in a connected world

I was asked some months ago by the Science Gallery in Dublin to join the curation team to help choose pieces for the HOME/SICK exhibition which is opening to the public tomorrow. We were presented with a number of artworks which would fit within traditional boundaries such as sculpture, architecture, video work, paintings but the team had a desire to introduce more smart objects in the mix. But how do you show connected objects which say something without only selling something? As the industry of connected products (or #iot if you’re on Twitter) progresses, so do commercial success stories. But you can’t just put a Nest thermostat on display. It wouldn’t add to the discourse, it just is. Neither can you show work that would suffer from Julian’s 15 criteria for interactive art (which, even if written in 2008, still rings true). Tricky business.

And there’s the theme of the exhibition of course. HOME/SICK reminds us of the growing pains that consumers are experiencing buying into the idea of a smart home and smart every day objects (I’m obviously guilty of this myself with the Good Night Lamp). It also points to the diminishing space within our homes where advertising and constant engagement is impossible. The bedroom? Ha! Laptops, mobile phones, smart beds, smart bracelets, heart monitors, it’s all there. Living alongside people and their night life, or lack thereof.

We’re also moving away from home constantly. This could be benign like going off to university or moving to London for work. But it could also be that you are displaced because your country is at war or a natural distaster has struck. It could be you move for a new job opportunity or the love of our life. We are being encouraged to think of the world as global. This is of course bullshit. There is always a place to call home.

Talk to any immigrant and they’ll have a place they call home even if they take a flight a month for work. When we’re not at home, we’re in limbo. We adapt to our condition and we try to pretend we’re at home with this state. We make Aeropress coffee on airplanes, we bring our tea and cushion with us, we have favorite hotels, favorite coffee places, friends everywhere. We order english breakfast tea in Spain. We ship pies-in-a-tin to California. We bring back St-Viateur bagels in our suitcase. But it’s not home and no amount of technology can help us overcome that saudade.

The reality is also that sadly everything changes all the time. It’s one of life’s certainties. The home we lived in won’t stay that way forever (even Elvis’s birthplace was furnished with what his father remembered of the place some 30 years later). We hold on to home when it doesn’t hold on to us. Clubs close down. Cities experience gentrification. Buildings are demolished. Should technology help us bask in the past or should we grow up and realise that we have little to hold on to and that’s that?

Examining this would make for a fantastic GDS project  but in the meantime, go see the work of my colleagues and myself in Dublin, you won’t regret it. It’s all there, for you to think about what you are holding on to.

Hope, hydroelectricity and all the things that power work.


My adoptive father Marcel was diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years ago. Last February my adoptive mom (a retired breast cancer nurse) called me and informed me that his cancer was now metastatic which meant a switch to hormone therapy. So in the midst of shipping my first batch of Good Night Lamps (which was delayed in production) I went home to see them.

I’ve known him and my adoptive family since I was 18 and he has had a profound effect on my personal and professional life.

He’s retired now but during his long career he was an engineering technician working on hydro-electric dam construction sites such as Manic-5. He finished his career managing budgets and teams for for large scale projects at Hydro-Québec. He always had an attitude that as a woman, I could do anything I wanted. When I had a horrible time with advanced maths at 19, he would tell me “you can do it” and “c’est just un mauvais moment à passer” which loosely translates as “this is a short-lived pain”. I’ve kept that in my mind every time I had a difficult time. When I closed my first business five years ago. When I failed to find funding for the Good Night Lamp two years ago and I was heavily in debt. And also these days, as I power through the shipping of my first batch to customers all across Europe and continue to work as a consultant.

I’m thankful every day that I have them in my life, even if geographic location separates us. The Good Night Lamp always has been for them. There is no better personal motivation for me but to continue to do well, make them proud and support them in any way I can which now means supporting the people who can make a medical different to him. So I will be donating 10% of my paid work to Prostate Cancer Canada‘s research efforts.

What he is going through now isn’t short-lived. He will have to fight this for the rest of his life. But perhaps one day, I will be able to tell him too that the pain will be short-lived. It’s a dangerous hope, but without hope, we have nothing.

Placebos, invisibility & just enough information: a long term informal study of wearables

Last November, after a month away for client work and visiting family in New Zealand & Australia I decided to buy an activity tracker. When at home in London I can clock 10K of walking easily. When I’m travelling, all activity ceases. So I wanted to try out a so-called “wearable”. I did what ever normal consumer might do and went to John Lewis. After looking around for some time, I eventually found a little locked glass cabinet with the FitBit and the Misfit. A young male staff member tried to sell me a turquoise blue Misfit as “women preferred it”. I rolled my eyes and bought the black one. I’ve now been wearing it on my wrist for over 6 months, probably a record by some standards. Here’s what I’ve learnt.


1. The design is invisible *enough*

I’ve never felt that wearing it was perceived as weird and it mostly stayed hidden under a sleeve. Noone ever asked me about it. That was good. With the incoming British summer, we’ll see if I get more questions. It’s functionality is basically invisible as you have to tap it to get your activity level.

2. End of the day report with no internet

I have basically ignored Misfit most of the day until I reach the end of the day and then double tap it to get the LEDs light up. If I’ve done well I’m happy, if I haven’t, well I might put a bit less food in my plate that night. I almost never use the app because really, seeing how I’ve done every day hasn’t really been useful and I wasn’t interested in entering lots of lots of other data. So in a way this is a better designed pedometer for me and not much more.

3. Placebo

A lot of what people have talked about when talking about wearables is that it influences their daily decision-making. They might walk up the escalator, etc. I think it’s been more subtle for me. I think I’ve been mostly more aware of the activity (mostly walking) that I do and getting a little bit more pleasure out of it, instead of taking it as part of daily life. That’s been fun and has kept me going.

4. Opportunity landscape

In a way, it’s a shame though that the internet piece of this product isn’t as exciting as the product design itself. I don’t think it’s a case that they’ve spent less time on it, but they basically don’t give me a good excuse to give them data. Perhaps the future of some of these devices might be that the internet piece constantly changes or even dies, but that’s ok because the product works on its own, without the internet. It’s far better than something that doesn’t work if the internet bit doesn’t and you end up throwing it away. It’s hard and I’m discovering how hard with the Good Night Lamp. But it’s got to be considered. Would I have accepted to pay £79 if I was buying a pedometer, no. But I did.



A list of what we’re up to at the moment:

– We’re working with a very large client at the moment helping them plan and find partners for a hardware project. Hopefully more on that in the next months.

– We’ve been giving SevenLeague a bit of advice on an exciting project they have for one of their sports clients.

– Starting soon we’ll be helping Wintec Research Institute build a presence in the UK over the next six months. They have fantastic research facilities around smart farming, wearables & human performance and have 8 smart homes equipped with over 800 sensors each so an exciting opportunity.

– We started a monthly paid for #iot trends report called The Imaginary Unit with Peter Bihr and Patrick Tanguay. This should help some of those senior executives struggling to understand the internet of things.

– We’ll be delivering the third IOTAngels Master Class hosted at the Digital Catapult next week. These tend to be really small intimate events, but investors appreciate the attention and time to have a good conversation.

Cards 17

– We’re helping Tina Aspiala run a workshop for Know Cards in London on March 6th. This is a really exciting tool for planning #iot projects before you start buying things.  Come along, it’s $95 and includes a Complete Pack which is worth $149.


– We’ve also been organising the third edition of Tech City International Women’s Day Showcase. It’s a fundraising event for a Hackney charity that helps women and children in abusive homes. We’ll be showcasing women’s work in technology and the creative industies, so come along and get a ticket! We’ll feed you well. We’re also looking for sponsors to cover the cost of doing the event, so shout if you’d like to help!


– As a bit of fun as as I’m a bit of a jive aficionado (a very easy partner dance from the 1950s)  I designed a t-shirt for Diamond Jive, the group running classes and club nights I’ve been attending.

– Finally the first batch of the Good Night Lamp is slowly coming together and I’ll be hand-assembling them in late Feb to deliver to our first customers across the UK & Europe for the first week of March. After 10 years on this project, this is very exciting.


The Internet of things for the common man & woman

I took part in the Digital Catapult Advisory Meeting this afternoon and we were presented an exam question: How do you sell #iot to the average man/woman?

Here’s my suggestions of things to say to people who ask this in the pub (note: this will possibly never happen):

Making sure your grandfather can stay healthy & independent in his own home longer because we can track his blood sugar level, whether he’s fallen, how long its been since he’s talked to someone else all remotely, engaging NHS, social care services and local communities at the right time. Don’t think about it as tracking, think about it as caring.

Support homeless children and adults and women in domestic abuse situations have access to help quicker because we know where they are when they need help with sensors and GPS tracking.

– Helping you and your children manage your asthma & allergies better because city councils can tell what the level of pollution is on busy streets with sensors attached to street lamps. So pedestrian only areas can be planned for, or transport alternative offered dynamically to you by apps like CityMapper.

Help improve your work environment and eyesight if you work with computers by measuring the environment you work in and your posture reminding you when to take breaks too.

Let you know quickly if your house is going to be flooded.

These are simple, but if we can’t convince people like my mother that the internet of things isn’t some kind of job-killing technology-driven-corporate-led move to destroy society, we’ll never get the support we need in the UK to innovate. If you have more, do add them to the comments!